In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On the contrary, your being is given to you. You are a man or a woman. You are a child of your parents. You are a husband of your wife or a wife of your husband. You are a citizen of a country. All of these are passively received. These are all gifts given ultimately by God, but often times given through our parents, or by our spouse, or from our government. You are also a sinner. This is a “gift”, given by your first parents. You can’t DO anything to change this. Your being is given by someone else. Your doing is your works. It is all you.
The relationship between doing and being is this: your doing flows from what you are. For a good tree produces good fruit, while a bad tree produces bad fruit. Our works, even our “best” works, are corrupted by sin for we are sinners. Since we are rotten to the core Our Lord must declare us right with Him. That declaration in Baptism puts His Holy Spirit into our hearts giving us a new man, a new nature, one that battles the old. We continue to treat Him as our enemy, even as faith in us causes us to love Him and our neighbours. This battle often leaves us lying on the side of the road a victim of our own thieving sinful nature. It won’t disappear until He comes again in the resurrection of our flesh, giving us an undivided heart, full of love for Him and each other.
Here and now that means you can’t love your way into being His or being right with Him. It is not your love that makes you His, but His love flowing forth in His action. For His actions flow forth from His being. He can not do what is against His nature. Similarly we can not do what is against our nature. We are sinful. Without Him we can naught but sin. But Satan has convinced us that we can somehow change our nature with good looking actions. Repent.
Even if your actions could be perfect according to the letter of the Law, your inner desires are not in keeping with the Spirit of the Law. For the Law’s spirit is to love your neighbour as yourself. You can never do enough according to it, for your nature is wrong. Even if you can fulfill the letter of the Law the spirit of the Law always demands more than we have to give.
Another young man wishing to justify himself to Our Lord asks a similar question, “What must I do?” Our Lord responds, “What does the Law say?” And He lists off the laws that apply to loving our neighbours: “Honor your parents, do not kill, do not steal, do not lie.”
“I’ve done all this,” he says.
“Oh have you?” says Our Lord. “Love demands one more thing: go and sell all you own and give it to the poor.”
The spirit of the Law will always show that your actions don’t measure up. For none of us loves anyone as much as we love ourselves. We are obsessed with ourselves, with our rights, with our feelings, with whether someone slighted us or spoke ill of us, with whether anyone likes us, whether God likes us. We can’t love others like we love ourselves for our sinful nature has twisted us in on ourselves till we don’t even think much about others, unless it is as a vehicle to make ourselves look good.
And that very sinful nature within you protests that: how can you call me so selfish? Everything I do is for others. I never have time to myself! Maybe. But do you do these things in love and love only? Or do you often do it out of guilt, duty, out of a desire to be loved, accepted, to get something back, to be patted on the back, to be appreciated, to be praised, to be right, to feel good, to be able to criticize others because you’ve done what is required and they don’t? We do not fulfill the law of love. We are self-absorbed, self-loving egomaniacs.
And if you think you’ve done enough the Law always has more for you to do. Who is your neighbour? Everyone. Anyone in your path who needs help: your friend, your enemy, a believer, an unbeliever. Anyone God puts in front of you who is in need. It is an impossible task. Do you realize that?
That’s one point of this parable. You can’t justify yourself by your actions. You can’t do anything to get eternal life. You can’t earn God’s love. So stop trying. All God’s Word will ever tell you when you seek to make Him happy or earn His love is: do more.
But remember how I’ve said our Lord is always talking about heavenly things while we are thinking of earthly things? Same thing applies here. The earthly, sinful human meaning of this parable is: everyone is your neighbour. You can’t possibly be neighbourly to everyone. You can’t earn eternal life. You are doomed.
But repent and turn from your constant need to justify yourself and see this parable anew. Our Lord came to earth as a Jew amongst Jews. But He was rejected by His own and treated as an enemy, a Samaritan. He came with mercy, forgiveness, and healing for the sick, the dying, and the repentant sinner. He came to take our wounds and infirmities and carry them, like a beast of burden, to the cross. He came to pour out the oil of the Spirit in Baptism and the wine of healing in His Supper. He left those two blessed coins of washing and healing, Baptism and Communion, in the hands of His innkeeps till He returns. In fact, He took our place among the thieves of this world by being stripped and smitten for our iniquities, and hung on the cross so that His Church could be an Inn, a wayside refuge for we who can not do anything to save ourselves.
We are simply half-dead victims along the road. He does it all. He comes to us. He claims us as His own, while we are yet His enemies. He washes away our sins, cleansing our wounds, changing our very being with His gifts to us. For when He washes us He puts a new Spirit in us and a new name on us: Father Son and Holy Spirit. In Baptism that is your family name. You are no longer called a “vessel of wrath,” a “son of perdition,” or one of the damned by the heavenly council. Though your doing may not change much for your sinful nature is still there, you have a new found thankfulness and humility within you. And you are now someone whose name is known in heaven, a sinner who has repented, the subject of the angel’s songs. You are His.
You stay His by His healing wine being poured on your wounds. For though we now belong to Him, we have just been brought back from the dead and our recuperation is life long. It lasts till we die. We will always be in His care. And having returned to His Father He has left us in the care of His innkeeps. He’s given them these two coins to care for our needs: Oil and wine. Baptism and Communion. And they will keep us alive till He comes back with the fullness and completeness of the resurrection on the Last Day. When in the twinkling of an eye your sinful nature will be gone. You will be fully and completely His, no more repenting, no more struggling, no more lying dead on the roadside another hit and run of your sinful nature. You will be alive. You will be His. You will desire what is right and love to the full for His resurrection changes the essence of your being so that you are like Him.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON